§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I beg to ask the Lord Chancellor a question of which I have given him private notice—namely, whether he can tell your Lordships what the course of business will be tomorrow, and whether, seeing that the Lords Amendments to the Home Rule Bill are being considered in another place to-day, the Commons Reasons or Amendments upon that Bill will be the first Order to-morrow. I think that will be most. convenient to your Lordships who took part in the proceedings on that Bill in this House.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I am unaware that any assurance was given in private that the Commons Amendments to the Home Rule Bill would be placed before your Lordships to-morrow. As your Lordships know, the House of Commons are dealing with the Lords Amendments to the Government of Ireland Bill this evening. The noble Earl asks that this House should take the Commons Amendments to-morrow. If the House of Commons spends long on the Amendments from this House, which I may remind your Lordships were not inconsiderable in volume of printed matter, it might easily be extremely difficult to print and circulate the Commons Reasons in order that they might be before your Lordships to-morrow. Moreover, it may easily be that there may be Reasons which it might be inconvenient to discuss immediately in this way, before they had been printed.
I am bound to bear in mind, as also are all my colleagues, that we have very often been the subject of severe censure for bringing up matters here, which have proceeded from the House of Commons under these circumstances, unless the material is in order and very readily available. If I am to understand that an objection which is based upon very considerable reasons is desired to be waived by the general sense of the House, then as far as the Government are concerned we have no objection to the Commons Reasons 281 (and, possibly, the Commons Amendments) being discussed to-morrow. But, as I have to put the various questions that arise, I must point out that it might not be very convenient as far as the Government itself is concerned to adopt the suggestion. It is impossible, of course, to say whether or not the Committee stage of the Agricultural Bill will be finished to-night. We, who are most sanguine, hope so; others, who are more pessimistic, may doubt it. In the event of the Committee stage of that Bill not being completed to-night I should suggest, in preference to the proposal of noble Earl, that the Commons Reasons on the Government of Ireland Bill might be taken immediately after the conclusion of the Committee stage of the Agricultural Bill to-morrow.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It would be inconvenient that the Commons Amendments or observations on the Irish Bill should be taken first. I must point out to the noble Earl that, very important as the Irish debate is, a large number of your Lordships are very interested in the Agriculture Bill, and are here at this moment for the purpose of dealing with it. The suggestion I therefore make is that the Commons Reasons on the Government of Ireland Bill should be taken immediately after the Agriculture Bill to-morrow. That course has the additional advantage that it gives more time for the documents to be printed.
I think that it may be convenient to your Lordships, as I am dealing with these matters, if I point out that we shall, with great respect, ask the House to sit on Saturday. The House of Commons is also sitting on Saturday, and it is a day which will, I think, be the most convenient to the majority of your Lordships. We can then have the Royal Commission for the Government of Ireland and other Bills, and make further progress with a number of measures. If the Report stage of the Agriculture Bill were taken on Monday next, and the Third Reading on Tuesday, December 21, and if the Dyestuffs Bill Second Reading was taken on Tuesday and the Committee stage On Wednesday, there would appear to be no reason at all why Parliament should not be prorogued on Friday, on which day the Appropriation Bill, it is hoped, might be taken through all its stages. I am well aware that this 282 may seem to be a not very particularly attractive programme, and the only consolation I can offer is that it is more attractive than it would have been if the Health Bill had not been defeated.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
May I ask the Lord Chancellor whether the difficulty he apprehends in regard to the circulation of the Commons Amendments and Reasons might not after all occur. I have no reason to suppose that there will be prolonged debate in another place, and it has constantly happened that when debates have been prolonged to an advanced hour the Reasons have been drawn up and circulated the following morning. I think that I might venture to ask the noble and learned Lord if he will he so good as to suspend his decision until the adjournment for dinner this evening, by which time he will probably be in a position to know how affairs have gone in the other House, and whether we may be sure of having all the documents circulated early to-morrow.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think that is a reasonable course, and I will adopt it. But I would point out to the noble Earl that noble Lords interested in agriculture do not wish to approach their discussions in a mood of exhaustion. I hope that your Lordships will agree to sit at 3 o'clock to-morrow. The judicial arrangement will make that possible. I imagine that the most convenient hour for your Lordships to meet on Saturday will be twelve o'clock noon.
THE MARQUESS or CREWE
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has held out the prospect of closing our business before Christmas in the course of next week, and the prospect is in itself an alluring one. But I cannot help feeling that the interests of business may seem to suffer through this attractive proposal, and that the noble arid learned Lord, if he will forgive my saying so, is filling a rather Mephistophelean part, in holding out the attractions of a holiday to your Lordships when, I am afraid, it is almost bound to mean that the measures which have to be considered cannot receive the proper degree of discussion in the short time that still remains. I cannot help thinking that the noble and learned Lord and His Majesty's Government would have been wiser had they frankly admitted the necessity of meeting at some period after Christmas, 283 inconvenient though it may be to a great many of us as individuals.
It is, of course, impossible to say what progress may be made with the Agricultural Bill to-day. A large and important part of the Bill has been dealt with, but, on the other hand, it has been dealt with by leaving over some matters of no little importance for the Report stage, and in the remaining clauses that have to be considered in Committee there is at any rate one which is likely to lead to a long discussion. And there are several others which will probably mean a good deal of discussion from different quarters in your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Lord suggested, I think, that even if the Bill cannot be finished until Saturday, it would be hoped to take the Report stage on Monday. That, of course, does not give very much time for the consideration of further Amendments, and I have no doubt the House would have preferred it if the Report stage could have been deferred a little longer. One does not know to what degree of discussion the Dyestuffs Bill is likely to give rise, but it is likely, I think, to occupy the greater part of a sitting. How far attempts will be made to amend it I do not know; but there are also some other measures to be considered, and I cannot help feeling that the noble and learned Lord has been somewhat over-sanguine in suggesting to the House that we can conclude all our business with proper discussion in the course of next week.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I would remind the noble Marquess that Mephistopheles, while his character was undoubtedly disfigured by many bad qualities, had it recorded of him that he was open to persuasion, and there is no doubt that the same can be said of His Majesty's Government. I only indicated what we hoped would be possible. If it transpires that the discussion on the Dyestuffs Bill, for instance, raises violent controversy in this House the programme will be shown to be inaccurate and your Lordships will amend it. The noble Marquess will, no doubt, set us the example of moving that the House should meet after Christmas, and it will then be seen what. support there is for the opinions he has expressed. We are encouraged to believe that the Dyestuffs Bill will not be very controversial because it is not only supported by a considerable majority in another place but Mr. Asquith 284 is actually supporting it as being the fulfillment of pledges given during the war. In those circumstances we regard the Bill as practically non-controversial. It is very difficult at this moment to be sure of the exact course of events, but if your Lordships are of opinion that we have not given sufficient time your Lordships will, of course, say so.